An interview with University of the Fraser Valley Associate Professor Christina Neigel

Christina Neigel is an Associate Professor at the University of the Fraser Valley. She has been a member of the teaching staff for the Library and Information Technology program for 15 years.

BCLA Perspectives (BP): What are the soft skills and attributes your program inculcates in its graduates that make them competitive in the province and nation’s library sector? 

Christina Neigel (CN): The field (and the world) is changing dramatically. To provide genuine and sustainable opportunities for graduates to be adaptable in this changing milieu, there are an incredible range of skills and attributes that are needed and addressing these varies greatly from course to course and student to student. However, the program is guided by the University of the Fraser Valley’s Institutional Learning Objectives. These “ILOs” provide graduates with opportunities to develop skills that enable them meaningfully engage with those they serve. The program is informed by ALA Core Values which serve as a touchstone for discussion, exploration, and expectations in the program. Some examples of our outcomes include: 

  • Global and local citizenship, modeling civic engagement and social responsibility 
  • Collaboration across boundaries by participating in activities and courses that are interdisciplinary and inter-professional (e.g. working with social work, health science, business, etc.). 
  • Understanding the nature and scope of professional behavior to engage in respectful and ethical practice. 
  • Awareness of difference including matters relating to disability and culture (e.g. indigenous issues and interests, internationalization). 
  • Experience with intellectual debates and challenges that inform information and library work. 
  • Technological adaptability. 
  • Problem solving. 
  • Collaborative leadership. 
  • Developing information competency both about the field and about broader topics and issues that can also inform information work.  

BP: Are there aspects of your program that you feel present a particular advantage to graduates when working in 21st century libraries? 

CN: We offer students numerous experiential opportunities including practicums and service work that enables students to engage with communities outside of the university where they are likely to work. This includes, projects where students interact with unique community groups (examples: Reading Link Challenge and community outreach events for marginalized youth). 

BP: Are there emerging areas of the sector that you would like to see library education address in the future? 

CN: Social-economic, political, and technological change requires the library community to consider its role in society very carefully. There is emerging work that critically examines the nature of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, etc. in libraries that assists in contextualizing the problems that libraries face both internally and externally. It is difficult for any field to address change without a firm grasp of its position within society and this kind of work is an important and necessary area of development for library education. In turn, this can assist in practitioners addressing technological pressure as well as open discussions on how the field can better serve society.

The intersection of information rights with concepts like privacy and free speech are particularly important areas of exploration as well. Some public libraries are even engaging in areas of social work that are seen as “emerging” areas but, fundamentally, speak to the struggles of the public sphere. Graduates need technical skills for organizing information and collections but they are, increasingly, in need of skills allowing them to interact, meaningfully, with changing cultures.    

BP: Are there areas of library education that you see becoming less relevant to the sector in the years ahead?  

CN: Outsourcing has led to the diminishing need for original cataloguing and classification in many work environments. However, there are places where such work is still local and it is the challenge of library education programs to balance information and skill development that support traditional and emerging practices. There is certainly increasing pressure to teach more in our programs, without lengthening the programs themselves. Further, there is a growing need for graduates to be able to interact with diverse populations in knowledgeable and sensitive ways with less emphasis on the handling of physical materials. Again, however, the diversity of the field requires graduates to be familiar with all library processes, both old and new.  

BP: Education background often plays a role in a student’s decision to pursue library education, are there employment backgrounds and experiences that you feel would well prepare a student for library education and the library world in British Columbia? 

CN: The UFV Library and Information Technology department has always respected the knowledge and experience that students bring with them into their programs of study. Having a previous academic background, at times, can be helpful for some students who may have already developed certain skills and knowledge related to being a student. However, even those without this specific experience, have a great deal to offer. Curiosity is one of the most critical assets any prospective graduate can have because it is through this inquisitiveness that assumptions can be challenged and solutions to problems can be developed.  

BP: Do you have any advice for persons interested in applying to your program or interested in library education in general? 

CN: While the librarian/technician stereotype plays on the image of a book-loving woman, the field’s future depends on diverse practitioners who are willing to understand and use technology, be adaptable, be curious, and enjoy working with others. There are many interesting opportunities within the field that can appeal to those who want to work closely with technology and/or work intimately with people. While the field faces many challenges including threats to its roots as an anchor of the public sphere, we are in an era where nothing is certain and there is opportunity to serve communities in ways that are different from library work of the past, including outreach efforts that embrace social action and support. Books, electronic and print, represent only one facet of what library work actually is.  

BP: What book are you currently reading?    

CN: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, by Erik Larson (2003).